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In praise of Trevor Phillips, the Islamic Human Rights Commission’s latest target

One of the nicest things in life is the discovery that one-time enemies are in fact terrific, brave people who you might have been wrong about and have grown to respect. For instance, when I was growing up I had a rather marked dislike of Germaine Greer. Then, in recent years, I discovered she was one of the only adults left in the room. Likewise Trevor Phillips. When he was head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission we often used to find ourselves at loggerheads. I recall a panel many years ago when, sitting in the green room beforehand, one of the other panellists asked me what I did. Trevor butted in, with sad accuracy, ‘Douglas’s job is to try to make me lose my job’. He was always enormously likeable, even when we were in disagreement. But then once again, in recent years as other people everywhere appeared to go weak in the head, Trevor Phillips turns out to be among the few adults left in the room. His interventions in Britain’s public debate these days are always thoughtful, humane, informed and always worth listening to.

So of course the Khomeinists in the preposterously mis-titled ‘Islamic Human Rights Commission’ have decided to put him in their sights. Specifically, they recently named him as a contender for their ‘Islamophobe of the Year’ award. I have written about this event a number of times before (for instance here, here and here). I used to treat this annual event with the frivolity and contempt that it deserved. When they nominated me for the title alongside people like Maajid Nawaz or Raheem Kassam it seemed obvious that they were just hilariously demonstrating what anybody with eyes and an attention-span could see – which was that here was a group of people with a very obvious set of goals manipulating a word in an effort to mislead the world.

Then in 2015 I thought even the most biting laughter ought to stop. That was the year in which the IHRC gave the award of ‘Islamophobe of the Year’ to the journalists at Charlie Hebdo who had been slaughtered only a few weeks earlier. During the awards ceremony itself the IHRC’s presenters ‘joked’ about the fact that there didn’t seem to be anybody around to pick the award up. I wrote about this at the time, in a piece which drew a typically illiterate response from the IHRC’s Chair. That man – one Massoud Shadjareh – tried to present his case to my editor that the IHRC which organises the ‘Islamophobe’ of the Year awards is an entirely different entity from the IHRC Trust (which is a registered charity). As I said at the time, Shadjareh must have thought that Britain’s oldest periodical was in fact born yesterday. Anyhow – I dispensed with Shadjareh’s time-wasting here. I will leave it to the British public to decide in what way the IHRC remaining a charity is remotely in the ‘public benefit’. One can see how it is to the benefit of Khomeinists. But most of the British public are not Khomeinists.

In any case, Massoud Shadjareh evidently found these exchanges somewhat bruising. They clearly preyed on his mind. So much so that earlier this year, when he got a rare opportunity to appear on the BBC, Shadjareh seized the opportunity to slander me. So outrageous were the IHRC Chair’s remarks that the BBC was subsequently forced to suspend normal programming and broadcast an on-air retraction and apology to me which went out on their news channel.

Perhaps it is for this reason that Shadjareh and his group have dropped me from the list of nominees of an event they now describe as ‘a satirical awards ceremony’. However, in my place they have put Trevor Phillips and also the former government integration tsar, Dame Louise Casey. I am pleased that Trevor has responded with the vehemence and outrage his nomination demands. As he explained to the Times:

‘Defining Louise or myself or anybody else as an Islamophobe is offering a licence to do us harm. They will say that it is just verbal and political. They know that in this world right now this is not the way some other people see it. It really isn’t a joke. It is genuinely dangerous. These campaigns are all part of an attempt to intimidate public figures from saying anything at all about integration into our society.’

It seems that the IHRC would have named Phillips for his excellent presentation of the Channel 4 programme ‘What British Muslims Really Think’ which went out last year. That programme centred on a poll which looked at what British Muslims think on issues including gender equality, homosexuality and terrorism. Not all of these findings were cause for happiness.

Of course in the IHRC’s strange, Khomeinist, moral universe, revealing what some British Muslims actually think must be ‘Islamophobic’. Especially when some British Muslims turn out to think things that are worrying. A decent group might recognise that the answer to such disturbing findings would be to try to help change what British Muslims think, or make them think more decent things. But, as I say, the IHRC are a Khomeinist group and for such a group, with such goals, the best course of action is of course to attack anybody who reveals what some British Muslims think. Trevor Phillips simply turns out to be the IHRC’s latest victim.

‘Genuinely dangerous’ is a good description of the IHRC as well as of its ‘Awards’ evening. Perhaps nothing will happen to Trevor Phillips. Or perhaps the target that the IHRC have put on his back will work, and at some future occasion they can – as they did with Charlie Hebdo – laugh uproariously at why somebody that any British person should feel deeply proud of isn’t there to pick up the award in person. I hope not. This country has great need of Trevor Phillips. And infinitely less need of Massoud Shadjareh and his ilk.


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